Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, Washington’s 3rd Congressional District Representative, returned to southwest Washington following the start of her first term in Congress to hold her first public town hall since her election in 2022.
The 34-year-old Democratic Congresswomen was heralded in November following an upset victory in the 2022 midterm election, which upended Republican representation in Skamania County that had lasted for more than a decade.
Gluesenkamp Perez sat onstage at the Skamania County Fairgrounds in Stevenson, alongside the city’s mayor and the moderator for the discussion, Scott Anderson, and fielded questions from residents on her views on issues ranging from the current debt ceiling situation, to, jobs, childcare and energy. She discussed her priorities during this session and also responded to questions regarding how she plans to work together with Republicans in Congress.
“When I see bills that make sense for our community, I’m going to get behind it and ensure that we are actually doing the work of legislating,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “I’m responsible to you all. I’m here doing in-person town halls because I think that’s what good governance looks like when you are accountable.”
Anderson noted that this marks the first time an individual from Skamania County has been elected to Congress.
“This is a very exciting time,” Anderson said. “We have someone from Skamania County representing us at the federal level. This is truly something to celebrate.”
Glusenkamp Perez was sworn in on Jan. 9, and she said that part of the transition in Washington, D.C., includes bringing in some of former Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s staff and hiring people that better reflects the district.
She gave credit to Herrera Beutler for her role in getting the Wind River nursery land conveyance approved in the House of Representatives. Through legislation included in the recent omnibus package, 23.4 acres of U.S. Forest Service land will be transferred to Skamania County for the purposes of economic development.
In the days since her swearing, she said she has signed onto a bill banning members of Congress from trading stocks, and is seeking an assignment to the House Committee on Small Business and the House Committee on Agriculture, the latter of which she admits is hotly contested, in a year where the federal farm bill is set to be renewed.
Gluesenkamp Perez said she will cross the aisle for legislation that makes sense for the community. She said she already took a “tough vote,” supporting a Republican-led resolution condemning political violence against churches and pro-life pregnancy crisis centers.
“Living in a climate of increased political violence, we have to say it is always wrong to break windows,” she said.
The first question sought her opinion on how to solve the debt ceiling crisis. She compared the current situation to “going to a restaurant and eating the food and negotiating the prices afterwards,” saying that the debt limit is just paying the bill that we’ve already agreed to. She said that Congress needs to get to a place where spending and revenues are aligned, and that the discussions on budget should be occurring at the time of passing legislation. “We don’t have this fight at the cashier’s counter,” she said.
In response to a question seeking her solution to addressing the lack of affordable childcare, she said she wants to work to ensure a “smoother regulatory environment” for childcare businesses, adding that expanding student loan debt forgiveness programs to teachers working in the field providing care to children under the age of five would help to support educators. She framed the childcare issue as not just an issue for moms or parents.
“As an employer, this is a big deal. This is a real problem because the most expensive option is the one where people just stay home and don’t work, who would otherwise like to work. That hurts our economy, that hurts people’s careers,” she said, adding that since 2019, one in 10 childcare facilities closed permanently in the U.S.
She said that boosting the paper and cardboard supply and incentivising manufacturers to use packing with that type of material would not only be a boon for the timber industry, but would also help to limit the amount of plastics in our waterways, helping the struggle for salmon and steelhead recovery.
Responding to a question asking if she supports energy independence for the U.S., she said that the war between Russia and Ukraine highlights the need for energy independence as a tool for geopolitical security. Despite Washington State being a leader in renewable energy, she said that oil is a part of the equation, adding that almost 9,000 permits for oil and gas have been issued but have not been exercised. She defended President Joe Biden, who has been blamed for the energy situation, and instead ascribed blame to market fluctuations that has disincentived energy producers from tapping into untapped sources.
She also heard local concerns about the local housing market, traffic safety on local highways, and on how to bring back apprenticeships. To the last point, she said that opening up the Pell Grant to apprenticeship programs would help to bring kids into good jobs. She added that supporting the trades through right to repair legislation is a pragmatic solution to support farmers and workers.
In her first days in office, she was able to meet legislators across the aisle face-to-face, and said that experience has humanized them.
“When the camera goes away, you find people have much more nuanced opinions than they let on,” she said. “It’s both worse and better than you can imagine.”